Unless a deal is struck by March 5 to renew the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players must have six accrued seasons under their belt — instead of the usual four — to become unrestricted free agents. That means that more than 200 NFL players that were scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency for the first time will not be able to do so — and will be considered restricted free agents instead. The free-agent pool will be significantly watered down as a result.
After missing the playoffs for the seventh season in a row, the Raiders have plenty of needs on both sides of the ball — but the pickings appear to be slim in free agency considering the circumstances. Still, there will be some talented players to be snapped up.
Without any further adieu, here is S&BI’s annual analysis of the free-agent market at the Raiders’ positions of greatest need.
(Note: This story is written with the assumption that there will be no new labor deal between the league and the players union by the start of free agency — although some top players that would be available at the Raiders’ positions of need under a new agreement will also be mentioned.)
With JaMarcus Russell’s at the crossroads of his career in Oakland, the Raiders may be looking to add some competition to their quarterback mix during free agency. The problem is, even if a new labor agreement arrives, there aren’t many attractive quarterback candidates.
Denver’s Kyle Orton and Washington’s Jason Campbell top the list of players — but both will be restricted and not unrestricted free agents unless there is a new labor agreement.
Orton had one of the best years of his career with the Broncos, throwing for 3,802 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions — although the Broncos faltered badly down the stretch, losing eight of their last 10 games after starting the year 6-0.
Campbell has been inconsistent through his five years in the league and has yet to take it to the next level. His stats were decent in 2009 — 3,618 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions — but he was in command of a Washington Redskins team that was one of the most disappointing in the league. He has a slow release and would not appear to be a fit behind Oakland’s inconsistent offensive line.
Most other QBs on the market are veteran retreads — Kyle Boller, David Carr, Daunte Culpepper, A.J. Feeley, Josh McCown and Mark Brunell. Chad Pennington will be on the market but he may retire after having suffered another serious shoulder injury.
One player who may be a short-term option for the Raiders is Atlanta’s Chris Redman. After resurrecting his career in 2007, Redman has been a solid backup for Matt Ryan with the Falcons. He threw for over 230 yards in each game played this season in relief of Ryan and nearly upset the New Orleans Saints in Week 14 with a gutsy, 304-yard performance.
Redman would be an upgrade over Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye.
The offensive line was one of Oakland’s most frustrating areas in 2009 and it would make sense for the Raiders to try to add a key piece of the puzzle in free agency.
Without a labor deal, there isn’t much out there — Mike Gandy and Mike Williams are some of the only former starters in the group set to be available. Same goes for the guard position — there are a few reserve-quality players out there, but no studs.
The most intriguing option for the Raiders is San Diego tackle Marcus McNeill, who is set to be a restricted free agent. McNeill has been a solid starter since joining the league in 2006, and while he has a history of back problems, that may not deter teams looking for a legitimate starting left tackle — which McNeill is.
Whether McNeill is a viable option for the Raiders depends on which tender he receives from the Chargers. He would be a significant upgrade over what the Raiders had at tackle last season.
New Orleans’ Jahri Evans, Pittsburgh’s Willie Colon and Baltimore’s Jared Gaither are other restricted options.
This was a very disappointing position for the Raiders in 2009, especially against the run. Tommy Kelly hasn’t given any indication he can be one of the long-term answers, so the Raiders make infusing talent at this spot a priority this offseason. Fortunately for the Raiders, there are plenty of talented unrestricted free agents available.
The undisputed crown jewel is New England’s Vince Wilfork, one of the league’s best 3-4 nose guards. He recently voiced his disappointment that the Patriots have not given him a long-term contract. He said he wants to return to New England, but not under a franchise tag. Though Wilfork sounds as if he has one foot out the door, it would be a major surprise if New England let him walk away, especially since their defense took a noticeable step backwards in 2009 and he would be the anchor for the team’s rebuilding on that side of the ball.
Is a reunion with Richard Seymour in Oakland too much for Raiders fans to hope for?
The next best option may be San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin, who had a breakout season in 2009, ascending to the ranks of the elite nose tackles in the league. Primarily a run stuffer, he was the cornerstone of a strong 49ers run defense.
Other top tackle considerations would be Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton and Green Bay’s Ryan Pickett.
Raiders new defensive line coach Mike Waufle may lobby Al Davis to consider signing one of his former Giants players, Barry Cofield or Fred Robbins. Cofield played well enough last season to be penciled in as the Giants starter in 2010, but will likely be a restricted free agent. Robbins gave the Giants some good years but at 34 he looks like he’s at the end of the line.
Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards, both from the Ravens, will draw interest from many teams as well. Bannan is a brawler with a non-stop motor, while Edwards has speed and very good athletic ability.
The Raiders haven’t had many impact linebackers over the years, and 2009 was no different. That said, there are some options for Oakland in the linebacker market, although the unrestricted pool is thin without a new labor agreement.
Karlos Dansby tops the list of definite unrestricted free agents — which is no surprise considering that he has topped the list for the last two years, actually. Arizona has kept his rights through the franchise tag, which Dansby has played under the last two seasons. The former Auburn standout is versatile and could play in any number of schemes.
Before suffering a torn ACL, Titans LB Keith Bulluck could’ve added some much-needed leadership and experience in the Raiders locker room. But Bulluck, who will be 33 next year, is not as attractive coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
Angelo Crowell, who did not play in 2009 (torn biceps) will be back on the market, as will Pisa Tinoisamoa.
New England’s Tully-Banta Cain led the Patriots with 10 sacks last season.
Several of the league’s top linebackers are set to become restricted free agents without a new labor deal — including San Diego’s Shawne Merriman, Tampa Bay’s Barrett Rudd and Houston’s DeMeco Ryans. Given what it would take to obtain one of those players — both in draft picks and cash — they may not be options for the Raiders.
However, Al Davis has a history of opening up his wallet, and giving up draft picks if need be, for a player he desperately wants.